Papercuts: Marvel’s Chamber of Chills

Papercuts: Chamber of Chills from Marvel Comics

By Ryan “HB” Mount

 

In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s DC Comics was not the only producer of many horror genre comics.  Marvel seemed to be in an arms race against DC with the amount of horror comics they were producing at the exact same time.

Chamber of Chills was just one of Marvel’s titles and it was published from November 1972 through November 1976 and ran for 25 issues.

Much of these books remain uncollected and unavailable digitally, making the only way to consume these titles is visiting your local comic shops and searching back issue bins or tracking them down online.

Chamber of Chills #1 (Marvel)

This was a heck of a first issue.

First issues are always difficult.  Typically, it is either a cold opening with just enough to grab onto or on the other side of the spectrum, it is an info dump and ruins a series before it event gets started.  Well then, how do you start an anthology series that has no overarching story thread and give readers enough to want to come back for the second issue?  This issue solves that quandary.

It was hand curated by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas in a true collaborative effort.

Out first tale might have been the most straight forward tale of Werewolves with a very specific twist.  The turn was so great, that to this day, I have not seen it been used in any other interpretation of Werewolves.

The second tale was written by Stan Lee himself.  For a man known for his fantastical tale, this was a very dark, reality based commentary on the prison system.  It was the darkest tale of the three.  Stan was certainly playing with his narrative style as most panels were surrounded by dialogue which may have been perceived as over writing but the last panel makes it all come together and deliver a crushing blow.

The final tale was clearly to appease Roy Thomas who spent much of his career introducing sword and sorcery tales into the Marvel Universe.  However, the actual tale was written by Gerry Conway, another great comic writer of the 1970’s.  The story was mainly one of a barbarian, but with modern day consequence.

It is clear that the further most horror anthology series are published, the quality begins to dip and rely more and more on reprints, but this first issue was simply spectacular.

Each tale was very well written and the art complimented it well.  While there was no top notch artists listed on the creation of this book, they all did their best with workman style art that still holds up over time, perhaps more than even those of newer generations.

Ratings: 4.5 out of 5

  

Chamber of Chills #2 and #3 (Marvel)

Issue #2 contained two very different tales of Vampires. One in the Old West and another millions of years into the future.  Hard to image back to back tales featuring similar monsters being compelling, but one was more of a cursed story and the other one felt like the original Alien film, only the aliens were vampires.  The third story was another Roy Thomas influenced tale of sword and sorcery which may not entirely fit the genre, but would certainly appeal to a larger audience.

Issue #3 may have contained less sword and sorcery, but ventured into adventure genre comics with a horror bent for the first tale.  The real gem of this book was “All the Shapes of Fear.”  Written by George Effinger and art by Don Heck, it clearly took place during then present day and had the artwork to match.  However, it was one of those haunting tales with a tale of redemption and if you can find this issue in the wild, might be worth picking up.  It may be one of my favorite anthology style stories featured in any comics.

Ratings: 4 out of 5

Chamber of Chills #4 (Marvel)

The main highlight of this book, was that one story contained very early artwork of comic book legend, Howard Chaykin.  While it was done in a style of that time and looks much different than modern era Chaykin, it still had elements that he uses today.  Each character has his signature strong chins and was already drawing very seductive and sultry women into his work.

If you are a fan of Howard Chaykin, this issue may be worth tracking down just to be able to see his early starting points.  While the overall issue was fine, filled with weird and interesting tales, his artwork began to stand out even back then.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5

Chamber of Chills #5-#7 (Marvel)

Issue #5 marked the beginning of the reprints for the series.  The issue contained four total stories, with three being new and one tale a reprint of a previous pre-comic code story.  The unfortunate part of the reprint is that there was no credit given to the artist or the writer in the book.  Also, given that it was surrounded by modern storytelling, it really stood out amongst the issue and not necessarily in a good way.

Issue #6 was three more tales, with two new stories at the beginning and the final tale one being a reprint.  This issue overall felt fresher than #5.

Issue #7 was fine, but it already seemed like this was the end, even though there were 18 more issues to be printed, the remarkable care and thought put into issue #1 seemed long gone.

Ratings: 3 out of 5

 

After the publication of #7, #8 began to be all reprints of older materials.  And #7 also happens to be the last issue that was available immediately.  Overall, I think if you are a fan of Marvel from the 1970’s this should be a series you track down.  If you want to see where modern horror anthologies really started to take their shape, I’d also recommend these first 7 issues.

 

If you like what you read, make sure to like it and share it.  Follow me on twitter @hebruise and let me know what you liked, what you did not, which horror books you are into and your suggestions to be reviewed!

Book Review: Whisper Lake

Title: Whisper Lake (The Turning, Book 2)
Author: Micky Neilson
Publisher: Self-Published on Amazon
Genre: Horror
Format: eBook (410 pages)

Whisper Lake Micky Neilson Werewolf Novel
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary (from Amazon): “In this prequel to The Turning, the year is 1991. Jason Emblock, a U.S. soldier in Iraq, is sent back home to the small town of Whisper Lake after a vicious animal attack. But the beast that bit him was no ordinary animal. Now Jason is becoming aware of the changes–enhanced hearing and sense of smell–even as he reconnects with his lover, Celine Armistead, and seeks to confront his childhood friend, CJ, who tried to force himself on Celine while Jason was away. CJ’s life has its own complications: drug addiction and a strained affiliation with the violent drug trafficker Boil, whose schemes threaten to destroy Whisper Lake. But the deadliest threat may not come from Boil; because the beast within Jason… is about to slip its leash.”

Whisper Lake opens with an author’s note: I know you’re thinking, ‘If Whisper Lake is a prequel, shouldn’t I read it before The Turning?’ Actually, I started this series in the middle, but I intended it that way. The twists and turns will be more meaningful if you read The Turning first, then Whisper Lake. And yes, there is already a sequel in the works.”

When I devoured Micky Neilson’s previous book, The Turning, I couldn’t put it down. It was a solid throwback to old-school wolf lore with a few fresh twists, and Whisper Lake is no different. Jason Emblock begins his story like most protagonists in this subgenre: as the victim of a vicious attack that nearly kills him. From there he returns to his hometown to recover and deals with the burdens that he now has to bear. In fact, the characters’ struggle to accept the fallout from their decisions is a consistent running theme throughout the story, and it serves the narrative well.

The overall tone of Whisper Lake differs from that of The Turning, in that the latter was a more suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, centered on the POVs of no more than three major characters (and quick vignettes of minor ones). Whisper Lake puts the spotlight on a wider array of actors on the stage. With that being said, no one player is lost in the game. From tragic hero Jason to stubborn survivor Celine to the troubled CJ, every character is fully realized and given ample attention. While the narrative changes POV from chapter to chapter, it’s never confusing, and always compelling. Neilson treats everyone as an essential portion of the story. There’s no gristle here; everything serves the narrative.

The main antagonist, greasy druglord Boil, is a far different villain than the calculating Alexander (the assassin) of The Turning. Boil is a physically repulsive sleazeball who has, through his legitimate transportation front and illegal drug-running business, secured a financial grip upon the small town. He has the gift of gab and knows how to whip a crowd up into a frenzy. He bypasses traditional channels of PR and presents himself directly as a man of the people. Despite his facade, Boil is not a gentleman, and accepts zero responsibility for his actions. The current political relevance of this antagonist, whether intentional on the author’s part or not, made me loathe him with a passion. Nielson has a gift for crafting great villains, and Boil is right on the money. He succeeds in doubling the tension in the story and driving the external conflicts that the protagonists are going through, in addition to their internal struggles.

While Whisper Lake is a werewolf tale at it’s core, it avoids treading the same worn moonlit path done in werewolf stories past by interweaving its lycanthropy with high drama and elements of crime thriller. While the same struggle exists between humanity and primal desires that we’ve seen since The Wolfman, the protagonists (and an antagonist) mirror the same conflict in non-wolf-related decisions. Whisper Lake takes a fresh turn in wolf lore, making connections with an ancient Babylonian goddess and a second deity who harnesses the power of the moon. Neilson has, again, made a slight but fitting contribution to the werewolf mythos.

There is a point early in the story in which it’s revealed that a female character had terminated her pregnancy some time in her past. I want to take a moment to sing praises about the delicacy with which abortion was discussed in Whisper Lake. The character who had terminated her pregnancy was neither a hero nor a villain as a result of it, and when a friend came to her asking for advice for a similar situation, she gave the best advice she could, which was to relate her own experience and say that it was the right decision for her, at the time. She offered the most important thing she could in such a situation: her support. Kudos to the author for treating the issue with finesse and not exploiting it for sensation. Considering the themes of the book (bearing the burden of consequences and accepting responsibility for the things that happen in one’s life), this bit of backstory makes sense and gives a fair bit of insight into the character’s decisions later on.

Whisper Lake delivers the goods and expands upon elements hinted at in its predecessor. I heartily recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Turning, and anyone who fancies a taut bit of wolf lore by extension. 5/5 stars. Grab it on Amazon.

Underworld: A Love Letter

This post contains a ton of spoilers about the Underworld series. You’ve been warned.

You know what I love about the Underworld series? Pretty much everything.

It starts off as a solid vampire/werewolf (or lycan, in the parlance of the movie) action-horror series, taking story cues from Romeo and Juliet and visual cues from The Matrix. The first movie is a fun action movie with monsters that takes itself entirely too seriously. I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

They get into some of the mythology and history behind the centuries-old vampire/lycan war in the first movie, but they really delve into the insanity in Evolution. From the first movie, we learn that Michael – Selene’s arm candy and direct descendent of Alexander Corvinus, the king of the monsters – is the first ever vampire/lycan hybrid and we are straight up told that no one really knows what his powers are. They could be limitless. Or they could not be. Who knows? *vampire shrug*

Selene also gets some of Alexander Corvinus’ sweet, sweet monster-king blood. That blood also has undefined powers.

These two things together really form the crux of the insanity the series embraces. Having two sets of undefined powers gives the writers carte blanche to make them up on the spot. Can Selene’s blood give her a lot of sweet fighting moves? Sure! Does it allow her to stand in the sunlight? You bet! Can it bring vampires back from the dead? I guess. Does it make her a really good baseball player? Never fully explored, but, if I were a betting man, I’d say she and Michael would kill Mike Dexter and his stupid Twilight vampire team.
What about Michael? Can he survive a punch that leaves a manhole cover sized hole in his chest? You bet your sweet bippy he can. Does it make him an accomplished chef? Maybe.

Throughout all of this we get a lot of history of how vampires and lycans came into existence and how they’ve changed, and why the war started and all that fun stuff. Apparently I’m a sucker for a convoluted history of monsters in my action-horror.

They double-down on that history in the third movie, Rise of the Lycans. We actually get to see why the war was ignited. Of course, it was over a love torn apart by a father who hated love and thought that cross-species breeding was an abomination. And also sunlight. And he also probably hated the insanely-dangerous cliff-sex that his daughter was having with a filthy (but also kind of handsome) lycan, but we never got his specific views on that.
I feel like they could have added a few minutes into the movie for him to talk about that, but that’s probably just me. “Before I open this roof hatch through a series of levers and let the sunlight in to kill you, my daughter, I want to bring up the cliff-loving you engaged in with this animal who is currently in human form and has a nice set of abs.”
On second thought, maybe it was good they left that part out.

Then we jump forward to Awakening. It takes place 6 months after the events of Evolution and humans have discovered the existence of vampires and lycans. So, in true human form, they decide to hunt them down and kill them. Selene and Michael decide to run away together in a boat, but are hit with a cryo-bomb which freezes them in time. Apparently the magic blood doesn’t defend against being frozen in time. So there are limits to their powers, I guess.

In a fun little twist, Scott Speedman declined to reprise his role at Michael, so they cast an actor who kinda/sorta/maybe looks like Speedman if it’s dark and you squint and his face is always moving.

Anyway, Selene wakes up 12 years later and finds out she’s being kept in a lab run by lycans and one of them kind of looks like a knockoff Chris Martin (fun fact: that guy is in a show called Lost Girl and it’s awful. He’s fine in it, I guess).

Michael is still frozen, but they have a hybrid child together (Eve) somehow, and the lycans are after her blood because it’s SUPER magic and protects them against silver and probably other stuff. You wouldn’t even believe how magic her blood is, you guys. She’s the first pure-born hybrid which means that her powers are really limitless. Like, for real this time. She probably can’t be frozen in time like her dumb parents.

The science-loving lycans are all wiped out (NERRRRRRRRRRDS!) and Michael escaped from his frozen container thing but now he’s on the run. Or he escaped in a helicopter. Or he was kidnapped by a lycan who looks like Tommy Wiseau and drained of his blood, and now Wiseau is shooting up the blood like it’s heroin and is getting all kinds of powers from it.

It’s the last one. Michael is dead now. His powers are limitless, but apparently you can just hang him upside down and slit his throat and he’s done.

That brings up an odd thing in these movies. Vampires and lycans are immortal creatures. They go to great lengths throughout the course of the series to highlight the ways they can be killed. The lycans developed special UV rounds that burn up vampires from the inside out. The vampires countered with bullets filled with liquid silver so the lycans can’t just dig out the bullets. The lycans do everything they can to harvest the blood of Michael and Eve to make themselves impervious to silver. Yet, despite all that, vampires and lycans alike are killed by something as simple as a broken neck or strangulation by way of metal wire. Human food is toxic and will totally kill them. Regular bullets don’t kill them, but it can cause enough blood loss to kill them. So, basically like humans, except a nice steak would explode their stomach or something. Even Alexander Corvinus – the father of all vampires and lycans – is killed by blood loss. I mean, technically he’s killed by a massive explosion, but he was dying when he exploded the ship he was on.

As near as I can tell, the sole benefit you get from being a vampire or lycan – besides super cool titles like “Death Dealer” – is that you can live a long time if you’re super careful. It seems that most things that would kill a normal person would also kill a vampire or lycan. What’s the point of silver bullets? Just cut their brakes and they’ll die in a car crash.

Now, for the latest entry in the series: Blood Wars. It’s the weakest in the series and also the dumbest but also still awesome. It still takes itself entirely too seriously and it pretty much forces everyone to have an intimate knowledge of the rest of the series to understand everything that is happening. I had no trouble following along, but I can guarantee you that very few people have seen this series as many times as my wife and I have.

As I talked about above, the lycans have killed Michael and now they’re looking for Eve’s blood for reasons. Selene does not know where Eve is, so she is off on her own, engaging in some sweet lycan-killing, but also being hunted by both vampires and lycans. Eventually we discover that there is a hippie vampire coven on the top of a snowy mountain and they know how to transport themselves over short distances and also maybe know where Eve is or something. It’s confusing. There’s also a sexy evil vampire who answered a casting call that asked for, “Just kind of be like Eva Green, ya know?” Anyway, she nailed it.

The Nordic vampires have white hair and hate violence and swear that lycans will never breach their walls because it’s too cold, but then lycans totally breach their walls and kill a lot of vampires. So many vampires.

There’s another showdown and the vampires prevail. Selene accidentally gets some of Wiseau’s blood on her lip and she sees that Michael was killed and then she drinks her own blood to bring back her memories of Michael and Eve and then she pulls out Wiseau’s spine and I was so excited I screamed in the theater.

Now Selene is a vampire elder even though they all hated her 30 minutes ago. The end.


I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know why you read this far. I have no idea what this post is supposed to accomplish. These movies have gotten steadily more ridiculous with each installment, yet they take themselves so seriously I can’t help but smile when I watch them. The black leather, industrial soundtrack and stony faces feel a little out of place in 2017, but I can’t imagine watching an Underworld movie with jokes and bright colors. Just keep it rolling, man.

If there ends up being another installment in this series, here are four things I can guarantee you:
1. I will rewatch all the previous movies again before it comes out.
2. It will be terrible.
3. I will be in the theater opening night.
4. I will love it.

Anyway, if you ever have any highly specific Underworld questions, you know who to ask.

Micky Neilson to Pen Comic Adaptation of The Howling

How many werewolf horror fans do we have in the audience today? If you are, you know and have seen Joe Dante’s The Howling. It’s iconic, it’s outstanding, and it’s getting adapted into comic form. Space Goat will release The Howling: Revenge of the Werewolf Queen in the summer of 2017, written by bestselling author Micky Neilson.

 

The Howling Adapted Into Comic Book Series

 

A longtime veteran of Blizzard Entertainment, Micky Neilson has plenty of experience with the medium, having written Ashbringer, a Warcraft graphic novel that made the NYT Bestseller list. The werewolf subgenre isn’t new to him, either; a few months back, we raved and howled over his horror novel The Turning, and are currently snuggling up with its recently published prequel, Whisper Lake. If anyone can handle the four-part Howling miniseries which begins where the 1981 film ended, it’s Neilson. Add in artwork from Jason Johnson of Wetworks fame, and the bar is set gloriously high for a solid series.

 

Howling Comic

 

Paper Cuts: 12/5/16

pc-bad-moon-rising-cover

Number one issues can be tricky.  The writer needs to set a world, give compelling characters and leave with something to come back around for the next installment.  All within the confines of 32 pages.

Bad Moon Rising has some elements that intrigue, but unfortunately get lost in the shuffle because there are too many plot points in this first issue.  The book opens with American soldiers trapped in Vietnam, only to be saved by one of them turning into a werewolf.  Truthfully, you could do a whole series on that alone and it would have been compelling and interesting.  After finishing Bad Moon Rising, I am not even sure that has anything to do with the plot moving forward because there were 3 more story lines crammed into this single issue.  There is a story of fringe science doctor who sees ghosts and is desperately trying to get law officials to believe him.  There is a story of a biker gang who have some sort of connection to wolves, although the connection itself is unclear.  And then there is a story of what sets up to be the main character of the series, a guy who ran away to the city, leaving his small town behind, and is back due to an animal attack on his father that killed him.  That is all in one issue.  These elements could work together, but the story execution felt flat and rushed and never let any of these characters develop and breathe, or give the reader a real reason to care about any of them.

One thing to really give credit to this issue is on the art layout.  Newer and smaller publishers really tend to stick to a simple grid format of storytelling and it was a pleasant surprise to see the creative team work with a much wider scope of formats that moved the story along and kept the reading engaging by changing the format depending on how the story needed to be told.  There is some real talent in that and something that is missing from a lot of the horror comics that are published on a monthly basis.

The art in the rest of the book is all over the map.  There are a lot of misplaced shadows and odd coloring choices.  The line work also seems to be really thick in some places and pencil thin in others.  I was a bit surprised to find that the artist, Ty Dazo, has had success working for the largest comic publishers. Looking back over the credits, there were three different colorists on this single issue. That could be the determining factor on the inconsistencies of art throughout the book.  In today’s comic market, that seems to be the norm, with monthly double shipped, big 2 comics.  But for an indie publisher, it is odd to have that many in one book.

Overall, this book is fine.  The couple elements that I liked – the Vietnam angle and the art layouts – warrant another chance on this series for issue #2.

Ratings: 2.5 out of 5